Can a local community pay for its own regeneration instead of relying on developers with tall blocks of flats and massive government grants? I got thinking about this again after reading a jargon-fuelled paper on urban rights and renewal sent my way by local hero Eileen Conn. The author writes about communities owning, or controlling, their urban environment, and being able to determine how to spend “surplus value” (Marxist terminology for capital that rich people and governments accumulate off our backs). How could local people in Peckham, for example, decide how money is spent in the area?
Here are two quick steps that are decidely practical compared to the ivory tower academic paper.
First, give people more control over the property and land in Peckham. At the moment you either buy a home and the land it sits on, or you rent from a landlord, or you rent from the council/a housing association. So you’re either wealthy, or at the mercy of somebody over whom you have little control. If all new housing in Peckham was built by mutual housing associations – where the association builds the house on a corporate loan, and as a member you pay a monthly amount to buy equity in the association so it can service the loan – we’d have the choice of gradually building up equity (like owning a house) in an affordable way (like living in council housing) and have the advantage of having a direct voice in how the co-op runs the homes. To seal the deal, the co-op could own the land through a community land trust, making it permanently affordable.
Second, enable people to invest their savings in local improvement schemes rather than abstract bank accounts. Use Southwark Credit Union and community finance co-ops like the Wessex Community Assets to directly invest local people’s money in good schemes, like helping shop keepers do up their shop fronts, investing in new mutual housing schemes, or helping Peckham Power bring renewables to our buildings.
We’ve plenty of money in Peckham. Not the mega-bucks that big developers could bring, or major government regeneration schemes shower on consultants. But enough to revitalise the local area, if we take more control over our local area.